Readersforum's Blog

May 2, 2013

Georges Simenon might be the best French-language novelist you’ve never heard of.

georgeBy Matthew McAlister

Georges Simenon, author of over four hundred novels and inventor of probably the second-most-famous detective in literature, Jules Maigret, is now, despite the fame of his creation, largely and unjustly forgotten. You might find a couple of dusty reprints in a big-box bookstore with a beefy mystery section, but only if you’re really looking. He was widely read in his lifetime, though he was, and still is, recognized more for his persona (the obsessions, lies, and hatefully competitive disposition) than for his prose.

That persona was one of excess, which is why it so overshadowed his work. Excess in his writing, in his social life, and particularly in his romantic relationships. One of his greatest lies, if it was in fact a lie, was that he’d slept with more than ten thousand women. (Coincidentally or not, the same number claimed by Wilt Chamberlain.) Still, his writing had admirers, and reputable ones. In an interview with The Paris Review, when asked if he read mystery stories, William Faulkner replied: “I read Simenon because he reminds me something of Chekhov.” It is not surprising that Ernest Hemingway also was a fan—few writers more fully embodied his iceberg theory than Simenon.


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